Known for her curatorial work with women artists, artist and curator Christina Massey is on a mission to give back to the creative community, bringing awareness to contemporary women artists who inspire her and deserve attention and recognition.
Massey’s latest curatorial project, “You Know What You Know,” at KUNSTRAUM, features the work of five female-identifying artists who intricately explore the profound connection between themselves and their embodied knowledge.
We spoke with Massey about her work as a curator, where she finds fulfillment, and her next big project.
“You Know What You Know” is held at Space776 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and at the KUNSTRAUM gallery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The exhibition is on view until January 28 at KUNSTRAUM and January 31 at Space776.
Christina, besides being the curator-in-residence for KUNSTRAUM, gallery and artist hub in Clinton Hill, you’re an artist yourself. Can you tell us about your background? What drew you to becoming an artist?
Christina Massey: Like many, I feel like there wasn’t one particular moment that I became an artist, it was just always a part of who I am. I went to a small liberal arts school located in Northern California to study Art. While my emphasis was in painting, in reality, I took just as many courses in ceramics, printmaking and drawing. I loved college, and I was eager to absorb all the information and experience I could while I was there. I additionally got a minor in Theater Set Design and which also greatly influenced my career, learning a great deal about what it means to put on a production, collaborate and work on a large scale.
How did you first connect with KUNSTRAUM and how did you become the curator for the 2023/24 term?
Christina Massey: KUNSTRAUM held an open call for a curator-in-residence of which I had applied and was awarded for the 2023–2024 term. The residency, generously supported by Art in General, appealed to me because of the length of the term, a full year. Typically as an independent curator, I come in quickly to a space, put on a show and then it’s over before you know it. I really liked that you had the opportunity to establish a deeper connection to the program and community and that the residency provided the opportunity to engage both from the operational side and the creative, with several projects over the course of the year.
“You Know What You Know” is the third group exhibition you’ve curated for KUNSTRAUM. What’s your overarching principle for all shows? How do you find the theme for the next one?
Christina Massey: “You Know What You Know” is a curatorial project that I have been working on over the course of the residency and is the culmination of my research and work as the CIR (curator-in-residence) at KUNSTRAUM. The theme was inspired by the program at KUNSTRAUM itself which supports creatives of all kinds from animators, designers, jewelry artists to painters, sculptors and more. Artists in the show all have studied and/or worked in fields such as graphic design, illustration, education, theater and filmmaking, and the knowledge and skills developed in these fields informs and enlivens their work.
The other projects completed over the course of the year as the CIR were an open call exhibition and a members show which highlighted the works of the studio members and artists-in-residence over the past year. The themes for these shows are not necessarily connected, but individual to each exhibition and inspired by the artists who participated.
Generally speaking, I am known for my curatorial work with women artists. I created an Instagram @woartblog in 2016 to highlight and support the work of female identifying artists which now serves as a platform to also promote and share my curatorial work. I created it to share work by artists that I loved, and use the platform as a way to give back to the creative community. It’s one small way that I can help to elevate and bring awareness to the work of contemporary women artists who inspire me so much themselves and deserve attention and recognition.
The themes for my curatorial projects can shift and change, sometimes inspired by the venue, location, time and place. However, they have similar approaches in how I create the experience and bring the exhibition together.
For example, a pop-up show I curated in the fall of 2022 was a fundraising event for the Center for Reproductive Rights after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Or an exhibition I co-curated with a friend of mine, Etty Yaniv, in 2019 for the BioBAT Art Space which featured all artists who were also scientists and had done extensive research in the fields of bio art. Artists in one show were very focused around female identity and very figurative, whereas in the other, they were very scientific, and focused on expertly engineered and heavily researched projects. Yet the atmosphere created in each venue shared a commonality.
The same approach was taken with “You Know What You Know” where I seek to create visual ties and connective threads between works that range in materials and styles. As one walks through the exhibition, there are visual clues—a similar shape, color, or material will transition from one work to another, linking a sculpture to a painting or photograph. To deepen the experience, a short description of the artist’s inspirations and background will inform the viewer of less physical connections and conceptual ideas that create further dialogue with the artworks in the show.
Can you tell us about the title of the current show “You Know What You Know” and how you came up with the concept?
Christina Massey: The original concept was inspired by the mission of KUNSTRAUM as a makerspace that serves an array of interdisciplinary artists. This informed how I approached my research for the show, looking for artists who had backgrounds and experience in fields adjacent to the fine arts who have used this knowledge, skills and techniques as methods to elevate and enrich their Art.
“You Know What You Know” is full of works that are labor-intensive in a wide variety of mediums such as plasma cut aluminum, gold leaf on canvas, meticulously crafted paper sculptures, collaged paintings, ceramics sewn into silk fabrics as well as a digital mobile app built from a feminist content library. Further layered into the artwork selections was the artists’ shared concern for environmental preservation, global ecosystems and the reshaping of languages. The artists’ socially and economically diverse upbringings, their connection to historical, craft-based mediums as women artists, and their educational backgrounds in fine-art related fields all inform their creative approach and how their work was ultimately selected for the exhibition.
Are all five artists shown in both locations or are they split up?
Christina Massey: All five artists are featured in both venues, however different aspects of their work are highlighted at each location. Each location was curated so that the two shows feel connected, but individual and unique, and so that the experience in the viewing of one show enhances the experience of the other.
For example, Tatiana Arocha has a large mixed media landscape showing at Space776. At KUNSTRAUM, she has a small installation that draws elements from this painting into the dimensional world. Ferns, birds, branches and more seen in the two-dimensional landscape in one venue are shown as life-size and in a sculptural format in the other.
Similarly, artist Saskia Krafft has work that shifts in dimension from one location to another, with her wall-based sculptures at Space776 made primarily from plasma cut metals, and her mixed media paintings featured at KUNSTRAUM which showcase the use of plasma cut metals alongside softer elements like fabrics and ceramics. At Space776, Nadja Verena Marcin has her feminist bot available to interact with, whereas at KUNSTRAUM you can watch a video performance that elaborates on her vision and inspiration behind the bot.
Other artists have a different series represented, such as Jaynie Crimmins and Amanda Konishis. Each location features a different series of their work, where changes in their color palettes and forms shift from one location to another.
What’s a challenge you’ve encountered during your time as a curator that you didn’t anticipate?
Christina Massey: If there is anything I have learned over the years curating, it is that nothing ever goes 100% to plan and you always need to be quick on your feet with several back-up plans at the ready. Shows this time of year are always a little subject to potentially bad weather, and true to form, of all days to have a wintry mix of rain and snow and dangerously icy roads and sidewalks, was the day of delivery and installation of the show at Space776. Thankfully, my art handler was flexible and adaptable to the timing of the storm and everything worked out fine. But to stay on top of the situation, as weather can be very unpredictable, I had been in communication with the artists, the gallery and driver, and we were all prepared should the storm have been worse than it was.
What do you love about being a curator?
Christina Massey: I love working with the artists. To me that is one of the best things about curating, I get to know their work, their inspirations and process on a much deeper level, and then have the joy of sharing that vision and passion with others. I find it very fulfilling to bring people together, helping others make connections and being able to be someone who provides opportunities, uplifts and supports someone’s passion and creativity. The art world can be a very exclusive one at times, and to have the ability to be the one to invite, include, and bring awareness and visibility to someone’s work is such an honor and one that I truly enjoy.
What’s your next big move?
Christina Massey: Next, I am going to be working on a retrospective show for an artist I knew very well who unfortunately passed away a few years ago named Jo Andres. She was an alternative performance artist, filmmaker, photographer, and more. I am honored to be working with her archivist and family to present a large body of her work next spring.
“You Know What You Know” is held at both Space776 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and at the KUNSTRAUM gallery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The exhibition is on view until January 28 at KUNSTRAUM and January 31 at Space776.
Dates: Jan 10–28, 2024
Closing Reception: Sunday, Jan 28, 4–6pm
Gallery hours: Sat–Mon, 2–6pm
Location: 20 Grand Ave, loft 509, Brooklyn
Dates: Jan 17–31, 2024
Artist Talk: Friday, Jan 26, 5–6pm
Gallery Hours: Tues–Sun, 12–6pm
Location: 37–39 Clinton Street, NYC
For more information, visit the gallery’s website.